UX laws are an invaluable tool, providing designers with guidelines that ensure we do not have to constantly reinvent the wheel when making web experiences.
However, scientists and psychologists tend to devise UX laws – people who are more comfortable with the exceptions and concessions of academic language. By the time we are sifted down in the trenches, the language is still over-simplified, and the wisdom behind the idea has narrowed.
Today we’ll take a look at seven well-known and commonly cited rules for UX design that get too many designers wrong.
1. The Law of Jacob
Jakob Law, named for UX researcher Jakob Nielsen, states that users spend most of their time on other sites and as a result prefer sites that work in the same way as the sites they already know.
Jakob’s Law has often been used to limit experimentation and to encourage the adoption of common design patterns in the name of usability.
However, the word ‘best’ is a huge burden. While it is true that a user will understand a familiar design pattern, it does not necessarily understand that best familiar experiences.
It has been widely proven that new experiences enhance our mood and new experiences enhance our memory. If your goal is a great site that leaves a positive impression on users, it is a worthwhile decision to introduce originality.
2. Target Gradient Hypothesis
The Target Gradient Hypothesis assumes that users who are close to their target are the most likely to complete it.
It is an attractive theory, especially in e – commerce, where it is often used to simplify the initial purchasing process and to delay the complexity of moving users along the funnel – a typical example is to leave shipping charges until the last step.
However, anyone who has studied ecommerce analytics will know that cart abandonment is a big issue. In North America, shopping cart abandonment is as high as 74%.
We do not always know what the user’s goals are, and they may not be in line with our goals. Maybe users are treating your shopping trolley as a bookmark feature, maybe they have a last – minute change of heart, or they may be horrified about the shipping fees.
While it may be helpful to give a user an indication of their progress, artificially increasing their proximity to their preferred target may hinder conversions.
3. Miller’s Law
No scientific statement has ever been made in the entire history of man and that was in Miller’s law.
Miller’s Law states that an average person can only keep seven items, plus or minus two (i.e. 5-9) in his working memory. This has often been used to restrict UI navigation to a maximum of five items.
However, Miller’s Law does not apply to showing items. While it is true that too many choices can lead to choice paralysis, one can consider more than nine different items.
Miller Law only applies to UI elements such as roundabouts, which for other reasons have a bad reputation.
4. Aesthetic-Usability Effect
Edmund Burke once said, “Beauty is the promise of happiness.” That belief is central to the Aesthetic-Usability Effect, which makes users expect aesthetically pleasing designs to become more usable.
This is often used by designers as a protection for gray-on-gray text, slick animations, and thumbnails.
It is crucial to understand that this does not mean that it is or will be found simply because users expect a design to be usable. Expectations can be broken quickly, and negative experiences often lead to disappointment.
5. Peak-End Rule
The Final Peak Rule states that users judge experience based on how they felt at the peak and end, rather than the medium of experience.
Designers typically use the End-of-End Rule to focus design resources on the main goal of each experience (e.g. adding an item to a cart) and the final experience (e.g. paying for the item).
However, while Peak Law is fully valid, it cannot be applied to open experiences such as Web sites where a user’s starting or endpoint cannot be identified.
In addition, it is easy to see every interaction on a website as a peak and even easier to make assumptions about the most important peak. So while designing for peaks is appealing, it’s more important to design for exceptions.
6. Dressing Law
In the 1950s, Paul Fitts demonstrated that the distance to the target, and the size of the target, influence the error rate associated with selecting that target. In other words, it’s harder to tap a small button and exponentially harder to tap a small button farther away.
UX designers often apply this law when considering a mobile break due to the relatively small sight. However, mobile visual ports are usually not large enough for any distance to interfere with tap accuracy.
Dressing Law can be applied to desktop breakpoints, because the distances on a large monitor can be large enough to influence. However, most large ports use a mouse, which allows position corrections before tapping.
Adjustable targets should be large enough to be easy to select, have enough space, and allow for tab selection. But distance has minimal impact on web design.
7. Occam razors
No collection of UX laws would be complete without Occam’s Razor; unfortunately, this is another law that is commonly misapplied.
Occam’s Razor states that if given any choice, the choice with the least assumptions (note: not necessarily the simplest, as it is often misunderstood) is the right choice.
In an industry where we have many options for testing, measuring and analyzing our user interfaces, you should not have to make assumptions. Even when we do not need extensive UX testing, we can make decisions based on the results of other designers.
Occam’s Razor is a classic design trap: the key to avoiding it is to recognize that it’s not your assumptions that matter, it’s the users. So Occam’s Razor is about user experience, not design process.